- New research shows that people with children are only happier than those without children when their kids no longer live at home
- Parents of adult children benefit from their offspring expanding their social circle
- Childless individuals can achieve the same support by creating networks of friends and relatives
Research on Parenthood Happiness
The picture-perfect family of a husband and wife, three children, and a dog living cozily in a pretty house with a white picket fence may be the traditional American ideal of happiness. But is it real? Probably not so much, at least according to new research that suggests people who have children are only happier when their kids have grown and flown the coop.
The study, which was conducted at Heidelberg University in Germany, found that having children is associated with higher levels of happiness than remaining childless, but that happiness is not reached until the youngsters actually become independent and move out of the home.1 Becker, Christoph; et al. “Marriage, parenthood, and social network: Subjective well-being and mental health in old age.” PLoS One. 24 July 2019. Accessed 28 August 2019. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0218704. These results are based on an investigation that included approximately 55,000 people living in 16 countries across Europe, all of whom were 50 or older.
After the subjects answered questions about their sense of well-being and mental health, the researchers analyzed the data and discovered that individuals with children are happier in general than their peers who have no children, but this only holds true when their children are grown and no longer live with them.
The Benefits of Having Independent, Adult Offspring
As much as those of us who have children love our kids and couldn’t imagine life without them, it is hard to deny that they can place a lot of stress on us as parents. Everything from behavioral issues to financial strains to dealing with the dreaded teenage years can impact a parent’s psychological state significantly. In fact, numerous studies have shown that in many countries, people who do not have children have a better overall quality of life than their counterparts with kids.
But as the current investigation has found, the tables turn once our kids leave home as capable adults on their own. Why is that? Well, as much as we miss them, the everyday stress of living with multiple other people is eliminated, and what’s more, our social support network is widened. Instead of relying solely on friends, siblings, and maybe cousins, aging parents can also depend on their grown children to spend time together and prevent loneliness from setting in.
Having a strong social network (a real one, not an internet based one) is essential as we head into our golden years. A 2016 study at the Universite de Montreal in Canada found that for seniors, a support network is associated with greater health and quality of life.2Belanger, Emmanuelle; et al. “Sources of social support associated with health and quality of life: a cross-sectional study among Canadian and Latin American older adults.” BMJ Open. 28 June 2016. Accessed 29 August 2019. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e011503. And adult children will typically provide one of the most meaningful parts of that network, i.e. caregiving and social contact for their elderly parents. Plus, having grandchildren is beneficial to our mental health and longevity.
Increasing Happiness, Whether You Have Children or Not
A positive outlook and satisfied perception of your life can go a long way toward remaining healthy well into a ripe old age. As we get older, our lives begin to change. We retire or substantially cut back our hours at work. Parents, and even some contemporaries, pass away. We may move to a new home or a new city, or close friends might move away from where we live. All of this alters our daily interactions and can leave us feeling somewhat isolated.
That’s why creating and nurturing a social support network is so important, particularly in our older years. If you have grown children nearby whom you can see regularly, that’s wonderful. But if that’s not the case, you can still form a solid network and surround yourself with people who care about you and enjoy your company.
If you don’t live near any of your family or close friends, take advantage of technology to speak to them regularly via phone, Skype, or Facetime, and keep those connections strong. Develop new bonds locally by making friends and seeing them often. Strike up conversations with others in your yoga class, join a walking club, or attend events at your local library. You’ll meet people who have similar interests to you, which will give you something in common right away.
|↑1||Becker, Christoph; et al. “Marriage, parenthood, and social network: Subjective well-being and mental health in old age.” PLoS One. 24 July 2019. Accessed 28 August 2019. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0218704.|
|↑2||Belanger, Emmanuelle; et al. “Sources of social support associated with health and quality of life: a cross-sectional study among Canadian and Latin American older adults.” BMJ Open. 28 June 2016. Accessed 29 August 2019. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e011503.|